Third Century BCE – Syracuse (a Greek city in Sicily)
‘Archimedes’ Screw – a device used to pump water out of ships and to irrigate fields’
Archimedes investigated the principles of static mechanics and pycnometry (the measurement of the volume or density of an object). He was responsible for the science of hydrostatics, the study of the displacement of bodies in water.
Buoyancy – ‘A body fully or partially immersed in a fluid is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the body’
The upthrust (upward force) on a floating object such as a ship is the same as the weight of water it displaces. The volume of the displaced liquid is the same as the volume of the immersed object. This is why an object will float. When an object is immersed in water, its weight pulls it down, but the water, as Archimedes realised, pushes back up with a force that is equal to the weight of water the object pushes out-of-the-way. The object sinks until its weight is equal to the upthrust of the water, at which point it floats.
Objects that weigh less than the water displaced will float and objects that weigh more will sink. Archimedes showed this to be a precise and easily calculated mathematical principle.
Syracuse’s King Hiero, suspecting that the goldsmith had not made his crown of pure gold as instructed, asked Archimedes to find out the truth without damaging the crown.
Archimedes first immersed in water a piece of gold that weighed the same as the crown and pointed out the subsequent rise in water level. He then immersed the crown and showed that the water level was higher than before. This meant that the crown must have a greater volume than the gold, even though it was the same weight. Therefore it could not be pure gold and Archimedes thus concluded that the goldsmith had substituted some gold with a metal of lesser density such as silver. The fraudulent goldsmith was executed.
Archimedes came to understand and explain the principles behind the compound pulley, windlass, wedge and screw, as well as finding ways to determine the centre of gravity of objects.
He showed that the ratio of weights to one another on each end of a balance goes down in exact mathematical proportion to the distance from the pivot of the balance.
Perhaps the most important inventions to his peers were the devices created during the Roman siege of Syracuse in the second Punic war.
He was killed by a Roman soldier during the sack of the city.
‘All circles are similar and the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle is always the same number, known as the constant, Pi’
The Greek tradition disdained the practical. Following PLATO the Greeks believed pure mathematics was the key to the perfect truth that lay behind the imperfect real world, so that anything that could not be completely worked out with a ruler and compass and elegant calculations was not true.
In the eighteenth century AD the Swiss mathematician LEONHARD EULER was the first person to use the letter Π , the initial letter of the Greek word for perimeter, to represent this ratio.
The earliest reference to the ratio of the circumference of a circle to the diameter is an Egyptian papyrus written in 1650 BCE, but Archimedes first calculated the most accurate value.
He calculated Pi to be 22/7, a figure which was widely used for the next 1500 years. His value lies between 3 1/2 and 3 10/71, or between 3.142 and 3.141 accurate to two decimal places.
‘The Method of Exhaustion – an integral-like limiting process used to compute the area and volume of two-dimensional lamina and three-dimensional solids’
Archimedes realised how much could be achieved through practical approximations, or, as the Greeks called them, mechanics. He was able to calculate the approximate area of a circle by first working out the area of the biggest hexagon that would fit inside it and then the area of the smallest that would fit around it, with the idea in mind that the area of the circle must lie approximately halfway between.
By going from hexagons to polygons with 96 sides, he could narrow the margin for error considerably. In the same way he worked out the approximate area contained by all kinds of different curves from the area of rectangles fitted into the curve. The smaller and more numerous the rectangles, the closer to the right figure the approximation became.
This is the basis of what thousands of years later came to be called integral calculus.
Archimedes’ reckonings were later used by Kepler, Fermat, Leibniz and Newton.
In his treatise ‘On the Sphere and the Cylinder’, Archimedes was the first to deduce that the volume of a sphere is 4/3 Pi r3 where r is the radius.
He also deduced that a sphere’s surface area can be worked out by multiplying that of its greatest circle by four; or, similarly, a sphere’s volume is two-thirds that of its circumscribing cylinder.
Like the square and cube roots of 2, Pi is an irrational number; it takes a never-ending string of digits to express Pi as a number.
It is impossible to find the exact value of Pi – however, the value can be calculated to any required degree of accuracy.
In 2002 Yasumasa Kanada (b.1949) of Tokyo University used a supercomputer with a memory of 1024GB to compute the value to 124,100,000,000 decimal places. It took 602 hours to perform the calculation.
- Pi (math.com)
134 BCE – Nicea, Turkey
‘Observation of a new star in the constellation Scorpio’
The ‘Precession of the Equinoxes’
By the time Hipparchus was born, astronomy was already an ancient art.
Hipparchus plotted a catalogue of the stars – despite warnings that he was thus guilty of impiety. Comparing his observations with earlier recordings from Babylonia he noted that the celestial pole changed over time.
He speculated that the stars are not fixed as had previously been thought and recorded the positions of 850 stars.
Hipparchus‘ astronomical calculations enabled him to plot the ecliptic, which is the path of the Sun through the sky. The ecliptic is at an angle to the Earth‘s equator, and crosses it at two points, the equinoxes (the astronomical event when the Sun is at zenith over the equator, marking the two occasions during the year when both hemispheres are at right angles to the Sun and day and night are of equal length).
The extreme positions of summer and winter mark the times in the Earth’s orbit where one of the hemispheres is directed towards or away from the Sun.
The Sun is furthest away at the solstices.
From his observations, he was able to make calculations on the length of the year.
There are several ways of measuring a year astronomically and Hipparchus measured the ‘tropical year’, the time between equinoxes.
Hipparchus puzzled that even though the Sun apparently traveled a circular path, the seasons – the time between the solstices and equinoxes – were not of equal length. Intrigued, he worked out a method of calculating the Sun’s path that would show its exact location on any date.
To facilitate his celestial observations he developed an early version of trigonometry.
With no notion of sine, he developed a table of chords which calculated the relationship between the length of a line joining two points on a circle and the corresponding angle at the centre.
By comparing his observations with those noted by Timocharis of Alexandria a century and a half previously, Hipparchus noted that the points at which the equinox occurred seemed to move slowly but consistently from east to west against the backdrop of fixed stars.
We now know that this phenomenon is not caused by a shift in the stars.
Because of gravitational effects, over time the axis through the geographic North and South poles of the Earth points towards different parts of space and of the night sky.
The Earth’s rotation experiences movement caused by a slow change in the direction of the planet’s tilt; the axis of the Earth ‘wobbles’, or traces out a cone, changing the Earth’s orientation as it orbits the Sun.
The shift in the orbital position of the equinoxes relative to the Sun and the change in the seasons is now known as ‘the precession of the equinoxes’, but Hipparchus was basically right.
Hipparchus‘ only large error was to assume, like all those of his time except ARISTARCHUS that the Earth is stationary and that the Sun, moon, planets and stars revolve around it. The fact that the stars are fixed and the Earth is moving makes such a tiny difference to the way the Sun, moon and stars appear to move that Hipparchus was still able to make highly accurate calculations.
These explanations may show how many people become confused by claims that the Earth remains stationary as was believed by the ancients – from our point-of-view on Earth that IS how things could appear.
a) demonstration of precession.
b) demonstration of the equinoxes, but not of the precession, which takes place slowly over a cycle of 26,000 years.
Because the Babylonians kept records dating back millennia, the Greeks were able to formulate their ideas of the truth.
Hipparchus gave a value for the annual precession of around 46 seconds of arc (compared to a modern figure of 50.26 seconds). He concluded that the whole star pattern was moving slowly eastwards and that it would revolve once every 26,000 years.
Hipparchus also made observations and calculations to determine the orbit of the moon, the dates of eclipses and devised the scale of magnitude or brightness that, considerably amended, is still in use.
PTOLEMY cited Hipparchus as his most important predecessor.
‘The notion of the indivisible particle’
Anaxagoras came from Ionia but settled in Athens, where he remained for thirty years and taught both Pericles and Euripides. Charged with impiety because of his theory that the Sun is a red-hot stone (such an explanation, denying the role of Helios the sun-god, was enough to warrant prosecution) he fled Athens before the trial and settled in Asia Minor.
What we know about Anaxagoras is based on references to him by later writers.
In the cosmology of Anaxagoras, the Universe began as a homogenous sea of identical basic particles. Nous gave this sea a stir, in the knowledge that in time the particles would so combine to arrange themselves such that everything would be as it is today.
Nous was a vital principle akin to the life force of vitalism – the nearest English words being ‘mind’ or ‘intellect’.
The range of the word ‘Nous’ is vastly greater, however, as it refers to the combination of insight and intuition which permits the apprehension of the fundamental principles of the cosmos – the concept is closer to the oriental idea of ‘seeing’ than the occidental notion of intelligence founded upon EUCLIDEAN LOGIC.
At the same time, Nous could be the creative, motive intelligence behind the cosmos, almost indistinguishable from the Christian concept of the will of God.
IMHOTEP (c.2650 BCE)
‘Architect of civilisation’
Medical sage, astronomer, mathematician, architect
Architect of the first pyramid built during the reign of the second pharaoh of the Third Dynasty, with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Came to be revered as a god of healing and identified by the Greeks with their own Aesculapius.
- THE FIRST MILLENIUM
- THE CENTURY